Italy, through the Italian Development Cooperation, is funding an agricultural project in northern Senegal to help reduce the high rate of illegal migration in the country.
The project, Haddi Yahde, is targeting five villages along the Senegal River in the Matam region, where harsh climatic conditions are pushing jobless youth to seek greener pastures abroad — both legally and illegally — according to VOA News.
While the majority of those deserting the affected villages are men, the project is mainly targeting women who do much of the farming in the region by teaching them how to effectively rotate crops to ensure “year-round revenue” as well as introduce more crops in to their diets.
“They [women] are the head of the household. They have children, they have parents who migrated, and they are very aware of this issue,” Mamadou Sada Bocoum, the local Hadii Yahde coordinator, said.
While appreciating the genuine intention of the Italian government, some of the women involved in the project are skeptical that changes to local agriculture will be enough to dissuade the local youth from embarking on the perilous journey to Europe.
They say the hundreds of dollars their relatives abroad send every month are too enticing to the young people who view farming as hopeless.
Since most of Senegal’s landmass lies within the drought-prone Sahel region, with its irregular rainfall and poor soil, farming is not seen as a viable income-generating activity; instead, fishing is the main economic mainstay of Senegal.
But through this project, which incorporates modern water- and- energy-saving innovations as well as small photovoltaic systems, the Italian government hopes to strengthen the resilience of fragile communities in the region and promote inclusive employment.
Women in this region are said to sell valuable items, such as jewelry and household articles, to raise money for their children’s travel expenses as they migrate to Europe and other Western countries for greener pastures.
Out of the 500 families interviewed by Hadii Yahde Project, more than 250 had at least one family member abroad while another third had at least two.
Sadly, most of these immigrants end up dying in the Mediterranean Sea, while others get stuck in other African countries trying to obtain visas for Europe.
Thousands of African migrants have died in the Mediterranean Sea over the last year as they attempt to cross to Europe using creaky fishing vessels and inflatable boats.
Officials in Europe are struggling to figure out the best strategy to stop the fleet of smugglers’ boats crossing from North Africa and avert more mass drowning of illegal immigrants.
But the Italian government is upbeat about the agricultural project, saying it will help women make enough money from onions, chili pepper, and other crops, and eventually be able to hire men as workhands so that no one will contemplate leaving the country.